Understanding WCAG 2.0

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Link Purpose (In Context):
Understanding SC 2.4.4

2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context): The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or from the link text together with its programmatically determined link context, except where the purpose of the link would be ambiguous to users in general. (Level A)

The intent of this Success Criterion is to help users understand the purpose of each link so they can decide whether they want to follow the link. Whenever possible, provide link text that identifies the purpose of the link without needing additional context. Assistive technology has the ability to provide users with a list of links that are on the Web page. Link text that is as meaningful as possible will aid users who want to choose from this list of links. Meaningful link text also helps those who wish to tab from link to link. Meaningful links help users choose which links to follow without requiring complicated strategies to understand the page.

The text of, or associated with, the link is intended to describe the purpose of the link. In cases where the link takes one to a document or a web application, the name of the document or web application would be sufficient to describe the purpose of the link (which is to take you to the document or web application). Note that it is not required to use the name of the document or web application; other things may also describe the purpose of the link.

Success Criterion 2.4.2 deals with the titles of pages. Here also, the name of a document or web application being presented on the page would be sufficient to describe the purpose of the page. Having the link and the title agree, or be very similar, is good practice and provides continuity between the link 'clicked on' and the web page that the user lands on.

In some situations, authors may want to provide part of the description of the link in logically related text that provides the context for the link. In this case the user should be able to identify the purpose of the link without moving focus from the link. In other words, they can arrive on a link and find out more about it without losing their place. This can be achieved by putting the description of the link in the same sentence, paragraph, list item, the heading immediately preceding the link, or table cell as the link, or in the table header cell for a link in a data table, because these are directly associated with the link itself.

This context will be most usable if it precedes the link. (For instance, if you must use ambiguous link text, it is better to put it at the end of the sentence that describes its destination, rather than putting the ambiguous phrase at the beginning of the sentence.) If the description follows the link, there can be confusion and difficulty for screen reader users who are reading through the page in order (top to bottom).

Links with the same destination should have the same descriptions (per Success Criterion 3.2.4), but links with different purposes and destinations should have different descriptions.

The Success Criterion includes an exception for links for which the purpose of the link cannot be determined from the information on the Web page. In this situation, the person with the disability is not at a disadvantage; there is no additional context available to understand the link purpose. However, whatever amount of context is available on the Web page that can be used to interpret the purpose of the link must be made available in the link text or programmatically associated with the link to satisfy the Success Criterion.

Note: There may be situations where the purpose of the link is is supposed to be unknown or obscured. For instance, a game may have links identified only as door #1, door #2, and door #3. This link text would be sufficient because the purpose of the links is to create suspense for all users.

See also Understanding Success Criterion 2.4.9 Link Purpose (Link Only).

  • This Success Criterion helps people with motion impairment by letting them skip links that they are not interested in, avoiding the keystrokes needed to visit the referenced content and then returning to the current content.

  • People with cognitive limitations will not become disoriented by multiple means of navigation to and from content they are not interested in.

  • People with visual disabilities will be able to determine the purpose of a link by exploring the link's context.

Resources are for information purposes only, no endorsement implied.

Each numbered item in this section represents a technique or combination of techniques that the WCAG Working Group deems sufficient for meeting this Success Criterion. [begin change]However, it is not necessary to use these particular techniques. Any techniques used only satisfy the Success Criterion if all of the WCAG 2.0 conformance requirementshave been met.[end change]

  1. G91: Providing link text that describes the purpose of a link

  2. H30: Providing link text that describes the purpose of a link for anchor elements (HTML)

  3. H24: Providing text alternatives for the area elements of image maps (HTML)

  4. FLASH27: Providing button labels that describe the purpose of a button (Flash)

  5. Allowing the user to choose short or long link text using one of the techniques below:

  6. G53: Identifying the purpose of a link using link text combined with the text of the enclosing sentence

  7. Providing a supplemental description of the purpose of a link using one of the following techniques:

  8. Identifying the purpose of a link using link text combined with programmatically determined link context using one of the following techniques:

  9. G91: Providing link text that describes the purpose of a link AND Semantically indicating links using one of the following techniques:

Although not required for conformance, the following additional techniques should be considered in order to make content more accessible. Not all techniques can be used or would be effective in all situations.

Key Terms

ambiguous to users in general

the purpose cannot be determined from the link and all information of the Web page presented to the user simultaneously with the link (i.e., readers without disabilities would not know what a link would do until they activated it)

Example: The word guava in the following sentence "One of the notable exports is guava" is a link. The link could lead to a definition of guava, a chart listing the quantity of guava exported or a photograph of people harvesting guava. Until the link is activated, all readers are unsure and the person with a disability is not at any disadvantage.

link purpose

nature of the result obtained by activating a hyperlink

programmatically determined link context

additional information that can be programmatically determined from relationships with a link, combined with the link text, and presented to users in different modalities

Example: In HTML, information that is programmatically determinable from a link in English includes text that is in the same paragraph, list, or table cell as the link or in a table header cell that is associated with the table cell that contains the link.

Note: Since screen readers interpret punctuation, they can also provide the context from the current sentence, when the focus is on a link in that sentence.